The medicinal mushroom industry is rapidly growing in the West, which we think is really great! Mushrooms have been ignored by the mainstream culture for many generations and they are finally being given their long overdue time to shine. However, for such a burgeoning industry, there is little regulation and reliable information on the subject. That’s why one of our tenets is to share openly about the research-guided and scientific processes we use at Fungi Folks–this time we’re focusing on the extraction processes of our mushroom tinctures.
Many products on the market currently lack traceability and necessary information regarding processing methods, techniques and sourcing. It is therefore important as mushroom growers and tincture makers that we are as transparent as possible, so you are informed about what you are putting inside your body.
Why do we perform extractions on mushrooms?
First up, get your science goggles on. There are many bioactive compounds present in fungi that have a huge range of effects on human physiology, many of which can be significantly beneficial to things like the immune system and cognitive function. However, these compounds are “locked” within the fungal cell and so it’s necessary to perform extractions to liberate these beneficial compounds in order to be able to effectively absorb them in our bodies. The resulting extraction is also known as a tincture or an extract.
The fungal cell wall consists in part of a compound called chitin, the same compound that makes up crustacean shells and insect exoskeletons–meaning that it’s relatively tough stuff! Although many of us possess the enzymes to break down chitins in the body, the beneficial compounds are more easily accessed if we perform an extraction.
Where are our mushrooms sourced from?
Our mushrooms are all either grown by us on our farm in South Wales, or sustainably foraged from the local area. Significantly, we use 100% mushroom fruiting bodies in the Fungi Folks tinctures, not myceliated grain. You can read about fruit body vs. mycelium efficacy for tinctures on another blog post coming soon! To be the first to know about it, sign up here for updates.
How do we make the tinctures?
After harvest, the mushroom fruiting bodies are dried and ground into a powder to be used in one of our double-extraction tinctures. Creating a powder, rather than simply chopping the mushrooms into small pieces, allows more bioactive compounds to be drawn out of the fungi (which makes our tinctures powerful!) The dry mushroom powder is then left to steep in organic extraction alcohol for 4-6 weeks – this creates the “tincture”, one part of our extraction (the other part being water).
Why do we use alcohol in our extractions? Well, The tincturing process extracts alcohol soluble compounds, meaning that alcohol extracts distinct compounds from a mushroom that cannot be distilled with water. We use a different concentration of alcohol for different mushrooms depending on how tough the cell wall is. Performing the alcohol extraction first retains the volatile compounds present in the mushrooms that would evaporate under heat during water extraction (see next step).
After completing the tincturing process, we strain out the mushroom material with a muslin cloth and add it to a large volume of water. This is then gently simmered for 6-10 hours, and the mixture slowly reduces to form a dark liquid extract known as a decoction. The process further breaks down the chitinous cell walls and captures the water soluble bioactive molecules such as the B-glucans (aka beta glucans) for example. Find out more about the general uses of B-glucans for health here, or just read on below 🙂
When the decoction step has been completed the mushroom matter is then strained out again using a muslin cloth, and the liquid is added to the tincture to form a double extraction. We’ve been asked this question at markets once or twice, so for those of you wondering: the alcohol concentration in the final mixture will be 25%, allowing long term stability of the extraction.
Our extractions are unfiltered! And here is why…
B-glucans are an important bioactive compound found in all medicinal mushrooms which are implicated in the modulation and stimulation of the immune system. A common mistake when making mushroom extractions is to employ too fine a filter, which catches the B-glucan gels and deprives the final extraction of much of its immune modulating power! That’s why our tinctures remain unfiltered.
We, Ben and Matt, at Fungi Folks are scientists by education and trade and can’t help ourselves from explaining with a little technical jargon: B-glucans are long chains of branching polysaccharides found in the cell wall, which under heat open up and become entangled with water molecules – the polar (charged) parts of these molecules complex with the polar water molecules. This forms what is known as an aqueous gel in suspension – so it often appears as a sort of jelly in practice.
Give our tinctures a shake before using them, and don´t be put off by a little viscosity… that´s the good stuff.